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Kids, Pride, and Sweat Equity

January 5, 2018

This past summer I texted a photo of my kids standing outside in front of our “new” home to a two of my closest friends.  My kids were wearing dust masks and work gloves and happened to be in front of a pile of ripped out paneling, insulation, and trash.

The response I received back was, “Wow- I can’t even get my kids to make their beds.”

It made me stop to think. We had recently purchased a home badly in need of some TLC in the crazy Seattle housing market. Upon ripping out the drywall we found 20 years- worth of junk in the attic: old rolled up carpeting, empty video game boxes, suitcases, and kids toys.  The attic was really low and so we asked my 10-year-old to climb up there (safely) with the instructions to only step on the 2x4s.  She would hand out items to us and my 8-year-old would stuff them in contractor’s bags.

While they didn’t think that was the most fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon in August, it was all hands on deck. And while they complained from time to time during the process, the job had to get done. Why should the parents be the only ones putting in a bit of sweat equity to make this house our home?

It’s not easy. Asking kids to do things that they don’t want to do. Asking kids to experience challenging assignments (not just with their minds), to problem solve the issues that arise, push through the negativity, and finish a task.  It’s hard for adults to do this! Why do we expect any different from our kids?  If we don’t teach and model for them when they are young to address a task head on, work through the issues, and complete the task with pride, how can we expect them to accomplish these steps as adults?

Yes, there are times it is easier to do it ourselves. There might be times we feel bad for all our kids for having so much on their plate. We might feel bad for things we put them through that aren’t in their control (moving, divorce, illness).  Sometimes taking on these tasks might make US feel better that we are doing something concrete for our children. But it’s actually the opposite in the long run.

Work helps children to feel that they matter. They contribute to the greater well-being of the family. Their presence makes a difference.

Wendy Mogel, in her well-loved book- “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” states that “Doing chores-looking after themselves and helping the family- are their first good deeds.” (page 135) Children need to practice the right actions in order to fully embody what it means to be a part of a family, gain survival skills, and let them know they are needed.  “Helping out at home raises self-esteem: when parents insist that children do their chores, they are letting them know that they’re not just loved, they are needed.” (page 135)

I was proud of my kids when they completed this dirty, disgusting, and annoying task (cleaning up someone else’s trash is not fun at all).  So proud, that we asked them to help sweep the floors and throw out the trash. And then we treated them to lunch at Red Robin. And yes, there was dessert involved. Even Maimonides, the 12th Century Jewish physician and philosopher, believed that children should receive rewards to get them in the habit of doing good.

I felt honored by their work. The fact that my girls followed through and completed a task that we needed them to do When we are finally able to move into this fixer-upper, my kids are going to feel a sense of pride. They were a real part of helping turn this house into our home.  And above all, they matter to this family.


Stacey Delcau is a professional Jewish educator who grew up in Southeast Denver. Stacey graduated from CU-Boulder and went on to receive her MA in Jewish Education from HUC-JIR in Los Angeles. She served as the Director of Education for Stepping Stones and the Director of Youth Programs for CAJE. She is currently the Director of Education at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, Washington. Stacey is married to Rabbi Mitch Delcau and mom to Shira and Maya.

Additional posts written by Stacey Delcau
Spiritual Resolutions for the Jewish New Year
To What End?
Passover Should Be Hard
Finding a True Community

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